The primitive fur, the alms bowl, the flute, and the trance-like meditative state identify this figure as a dervish, or a sufi, a Muslim mystic who has renounced the material aspects of existence. The sense of abstract patterning in the fur and in the man's crossed limbs, combined with the distinctive palette featuring pink and sky blue, suggest an origin in the Deccan, possibly Bijapur. The invocation at the lower left, "Oh Prophet of the House of Hashim from thee comes help," referring to the prophet Muhammad, is in Persian.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Portrait of a Sufi
Date:first quarter 17th century
Geography:Attributed to India, Deccan, probably Bijapur
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions:Page: H. 15 1/8 in. (38.4 cm) W. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm) Painting: H. 8 7/8 in. (22.6 cm) W. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Cora Timken Burnett, 1956
Portrait of a Sufi
Contact between Iran, Central Asia, India and the Far East predates the Medieval period by hundreds of years, but it was largely during the mid-thirteenth century, as a result of the vast expansion of the Mongol empire and the close relationship between the Ilkhanid Mongol rulers of Iran and the Yuan Mongol rulers of China, that cross-cultural transmissions intensified between regions. This must certainly have contributed to the appearance of cross-cultural figural types in the art of these areas, as represented by this portrait of a Sufi. The larger folio to which it is attached indicates that this single-page composition once belonged to an album, which may have contained other figural portraits, drawings, paintings, and calligraphies.
This portrait of a Sufi was probably produced in India in the early seventeenth century, when the patronage of single-page compositions became fashionable in other parts of the Islamic world, especially as the Safavid Empire declined and some Iranian artists moved to Mughal India and Ottoman Turkey. The seated figure can be identified as a Sufi by his humble attire, including a sheepskin covering, a bamboo stick (or perhaps a reed flute), and a bowl for alms on the ground beside him. A Persian inscription above the bowl reads, "O Prophet [Muhammad], descendant of Hashim, help comes from you." The value of introspection and the focus on the batin or interior (esoteric knowledge), versus the zahir, or exterior (ostensible lnowledge), is emphasized by the figure's closed, self-contained pose formed by his crossed arms and legs, his furrowed brow, and his trancelike fixation on a point beyond the picture frame. The figure in this painting bears a much more direct and fascinating resemblance to the luohan represented in Chinese paintings. Fifteenth-century Islamic drawings from Central Asia depict similar figures resembling Buddhist ascetics; the artist may have met, or seen depictions of, counterparts in other faiths, an exposure that would not be out of the ordinary in this context. The realistic rendering of human features seen in this portrait, however, is especially typical of Indian painting; the delicate brushwork and soft color palette suggest the Deccan as a place of production.
Ladan Akbarnia in [Akbarnia and Leoni 2009]
42. It should be noted that this process of migration had already begun under the reign of the safavid Shah Tahmasp I (r. 1524–1576) in the mid-sixteenth century.
Inscription: In Persian, above the Sufi's bowl: O Prophet, descendant of Hashim, from thee is (our) help
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.
The Met's collection of Islamic art is one of the most comprehensive in the world and ranges in date from the seventh to the twenty-first century. Its more than 15,000 objects reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions from Spain to Indonesia.